Updated 9 months ago
Florida’s Democrats are heavily concentrated in south Florida — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and in Alachua (Gainesville) and Leon (Tallahassee) counties. Some of the party’s most loyal voters are African-Americans, some of whom are concentrated in rural counties near the Georgia border, including Gadsden, just west of Tallahassee. A growing number of non-Cuban Hispanics are also reliable Democratic voters. Women are vital to Democrats’ success in Florida, with 52% of Florida women voting for President Obama in 2008.
While Republican voters are much more spread out geographically than their Democratic counterparts, five solid GOP counties are Collier (Naples), Seminole (Orlando area), Clay (Jacksonville area), Okaloosa (Fort Walton Beach) and Lee (Cape Coral/Fort Myers). The GOP base includes suburban small-business people along I-4, evangelicals, Cuban-Americans in southeast Florida, seniors in southwest Florida, social conservatives (including active and retired military personnel) in the Panhandle and Tea Party supporters. Panhandle Democrats are also increasingly casting GOP votes in statewide contests.
“The calculus of winning Florida doesn’t change that much from year to year. Basically you have to get your base and win half the swing vote or a little more than half the swing vote.”
— Steve Schale was state director for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and is a volunteer on the 2012 re-election campaign.
“We have been stressing to each one of our county leaders and each one of our grassroots networks that we must try to achieve an 85% base turnout of Republicans in the state of Florida. If we achieve that, I’m confident we will win.”
— Brett Doster is Florida senior adviser for the Romney for President campaign.
[Illustration: Jeff Papa]
» Next page: Swing Counties Along I-4
[Illustration: Jeff Papa]
Both parties will concentrate on Hispanic-heavy Osceola and south Orange counties, says Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno. Voters seesawed between both parties in recent elections, he says. Democrats need to carry several big counties along I-4 and stay close in others. President Obama will likely never carry Polk County, for example, but took 48% of the vote in 2008. The same stay-competitive strategy holds true in heavily Republican Duval County, which Democratic presidential contender John Kerry lost by 61,500 votes in 2004. Obama, however, lost Duval by just 8,000 votes in 2008.
Approximately 45% of all GOP voters live in the Tampa and Orlando media markets — an area that University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus calls the highway to presidential political heaven.”But the area also includes many independent voters, and a Romney victory in the region will require wins in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. While Pinellas voters chose Obama over McCain in 2008, Kerry and George W. Bush ran a virtual dead heat in 2004. Voters in Hillsborough have picked the presidential winner in the last four elections.
“John Kerry lost Florida (in 2004) by about 380,000 votes. (Obama) won it by 230,000 or something like that. Winning Florida means doing well in Volusia County, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County. We don’t have to win Polk County, but we can’t get creamed in Polk County. Our math to win is all about margins.”
“If we have good crossover appeal with our Democrats in the Panhandle and the I-4 corridor, if we achieve a strong win by more than five points with no-party affiliates in the state, and then we win in the Hispanic community. ... I think we have an opportunity to win.”
» Next page: Wild Cards
» Perception of economic trends: Unemployment has fallen by almost 2 percentage points, but is still likely to be above 8%. Will voters see the glass as half full or half empty?
» Voter turnout: Strong turnout by African-Americans could boost that group’s percentage of the statewide electorate above 14%. Overall, Democrats didn’t turn out in significantly larger numbers in 2008 than in 2004. A smaller-than-2008 turnout by Democrats could hurt Obama’s chances in the state.
» Hispanic vote: The number of Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area — more likely to vote Democrat — has grown. In addition, the passage of time means that the percentage of Hispanic voters in Miami who aren’t first-generation Cubans is smaller. Schale says Obama won 57% of the Hispanic vote in 2008: “I don’t think it’s inconceivable we could get to 60% or even a little higher.” Meanwhile, however, the GOP isn’t conceding the Hispanic vote and is courting Hispanics in Florida — “the most intensive effort with Hispanic voters bar none,” says Doster.
» Early and absentee voters: In 2008, Obama actually lost among those who voted on Election Day, but more than half of those who voted cast their ballots before Election Day. The GOP was stronger among absentee voters, while the Democrats dominated early voters. Can they repeat those successes — or cut into the other party’s margins?
» Marco Rubio: Some polls show that Romney could increase his vote totals in Florida by 2% to 3% by picking Rubio as his vice presidential candidate. With the race in Florida a must-win affair for the GOP, a Rubio candidacy could be a factor.
The convention factor: Holding the GOP convention in Tampa could help the GOP in the I-4 corridor. “If we increase our margins by 5% in Tampa Bay, we win,” says Doster.
» Surrogates: Romney will get help from high-profile types like the members of the state Cabinet, Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush Jr. and Gov. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico. In addition, conservative ballot measures and the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Connie Mack for Senate could boost Republican turnout. The GOP has made it clear it’s not eager for campaign help from Gov. Rick Scott, not a favorite with voters.
» Next page: Final Word